Thursday, July 28, 2011

What does the future hold for schools in New Zealand?

Guest blogger Allan Alach

Bruce has very generously allowed me to write another guest blog, for which I am very grateful. I’ll start off by reiterating the obvious:

Of course children need to develop high levels of competence in literacy and mathematics. No argument.  Equally valid is the need to develop each child’s full potential, a case that Bruce articulates so well. The issue is the conflict between these.

As we move into the second half of this year, we are now waiting to see what the Ministry of Education will do about schools who have stuck to their principles of putting children first, refusing to submit a ‘compliant’ charter.  We can expect MOE officials at local offices to increase pressures on BOTs, to try to create a rift between BOTs and principals, or by stressing ‘this is the law’.

That will undoubtedly do the trick with some wavering BOTs, who are caught in the dilemma between doing the right thing for children, and being law abiding citizens.

What will follow? My crystal ball indicates two possible paths.

The National Party will be very mindful of the coming election. Confronting non-compliant schools head on runs the big risk of wide media coverage of all the issues revolving around the standards, and this comes with a big electoral risk attached.

Therefore one outcome could be that the posturing, arm twisting and threats of doom and retribution will continue, but not go any further until after the election. Should National be returned to office, fasten your seat belts.

Another possibility is that the government will use the distraction of the Rugby World Cup as the time to ‘lean’ on schools. 

Are we winning this fight? Will the government admit it has got this all wrong? Is this a good Tui ad?

Sorry, people, this battle has a long way to go and logic, research, educational principles, and the large numbers of experts against standards count for nothing.

Let’s unpick a few things here to illustrate this.

One of these is the recent announcement, published on July 19, of the appointment of the new Secretary for Education.  Our new ‘boss’ will be Lesley Longstone, from England, who “is experienced in developing and implementing policy and strategies and in introducing and implementing legislation.  She has successfully managed change in large service delivery organisations in challenging circumstances.”

Hmm... references to the New Zealand Curriculum? 21st century education? Inquiry learning? Knowledge of pedagogy? Teacher inquiry? 

Want to know more? Here’s the link to the State Services Commission. It seems pretty transparent to me what her job will be.  For more on this, read Derek Wenmoth’s blog.

As an attempt to prove she is ‘listening’, the Minister has established what Kelvin Smythe calls an “Orwellian-type advisory group” called  the “National Standards Sector Advisory Group” or NSSAG. The fact that this group doesn’t include the educators, academics, and education sector groups concerned about the impact of standards is apparently not important.

Orwellian’ is right - set up a group that will dutifully do what it is told and define the language accordingly. ‘Newspeak’ by any chance? A member of the NSSAG is one Brian Hincho, who apparently represents intermediates and middle schools. Heard of him before? Thought not. That, people, is the education sector’s voice on this group. Fills you with confidence?

As part of the latest NSSAG report, Hincho produced a paper “So Why Are Principals Opposed to National Standards?” From its title, and from a cursory reading, one may think that Hincho is actually reflecting principal voice, and I’ve heard senior colleagues refer to it in this way.

For a devastating critique of Hincho’s paper, read what Kelvin Smythe has written. For full impact, follow the sequence Kelvin suggests:
So why are French people opposed to Vichy France collaboration? (Kelvin’s satirical take of Hincho’s article).

Still think that Hincho is speaking on our behalf?

Continuing the theme I’ve developed in previous postings, we also need to lift our heads to see what is happening overseas, as it is clear that many of the government’s educational policies are being imported. Australia is the first place we should look.

The NAPLAN programme was introduced there in spite of the protests of the education sector, whose objections followed a similar line to those being expressed here. However the political ideology over ruled the educationalists.

For indepth analysis of the Australian education sector, I recommend you follow Phil Cullen. Phil is an ex-Director General of Education in Queensland, whose education focus is very child centred, and his website is extremely comprehensive.

Phil also writes a very powerful email newsletter/blog, called “The Treehorn Express” that comments on current issues in Australian and worldwide education. Add this to your PLN. It doesn’t take much reading to realise that he could very well be writing about current trends in New Zealand.  Aren’t coincidences amazing things? 

In Phil’s latest ‘Treehorn Express’, he refers to the ‘consultant’, Joel Klein, who advised then Education Minister Julia Gillard, about the best system to use for the NAPLAN test programme. Remember that, especially if you come across a video of a discussion between Klein and Sir Ken Robinson, which has been highlighted on Twitter.

In order to get a grasp of what is most likely behind the educational developments in Australia and New Zealand, we need to head off to the USA.

One fall out of the disintegration of the Murdoch regime has been the evidence that the Murdoch business empire has/had big plans to add education to their portfolio, as detailed here, and here, and here.

Klein’s role is outlined in this article in The New York Times;
“Though Mr. Klein did not see eye to eye with Mr. Murdoch on many political issues, they agreed on a core set of education principles: that charter schools needed to expand; poor instructors should be weeded out; and the power of the teachers union must be curtailed.

Blogger Joe Bower (always worth following) also comments on Joel Klein in this post, where he starts with this quote from Klein:
"The more we have multiple measures the risk is we dilute the power of accountability."

Think about what that really says.

 Phil Cullen is also on Murdoch’s case: “Digital Giants About to Take Over Schools” which includes this section:
“Education is, as Rupert Murdoch described it in a speech to the G8 in May 2011, ‘the last frontier’ – a vast market waiting to be invaded, conquered and financially exploited by News of the World and other companies.”

Get the message?

While Murdoch’s troubles in England may bring an end to this, there are other big sharks in the US water.

Collectively they are known as ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) whose members include the big players in the USA business world, such as the Koch Companies Public Sector, AT&T, Wal-Mart Stores, Pfizer Inc., Coca-Cola Co., ExxonMobil Corp., State Farm Insurance Co., PhRMA, Altria Group (formerly Philip Morris), Kraft Foods, Reynolds American and others. Many of these players, by the way, are also behind the Kahn Academy (as is Bill Gates) and TED talks. Now there’s food for thought.

So what is the relevance to New Zealand education? Here is a page discussing ALEC’s policy on education. 

As an illustration, here are two sections.
“Certifying individuals with no education background as teachers, a move that would weaken the quality of education, that fails to recognize there is more to teaching than knowledge of a subject, and that would undermine the role and competitiveness of professional teachers.”

Links to NZ? Yep. The idea of six week training for graduates has already been proposed by the Minister.

What about this one?
“Creating a scheme to deem public schools "educationally bankrupt" to rationalize giving taxpayer dollars to almost completely unregulated private schools, rather than addressing any problems.”

See where standards and league tables fit in?

How much power does ALEC have in influencing US policy? Are you aware that recently Barack Obama organised a major meeting to discuss US education ‘reform’? Are you aware that this meeting was attended by many of the significant business leaders in the USA? How many educational experts were invited? (Answers to be written on a postage stamp using a 5 cm paint brush.) What does that tell you?

As an aside, you may find it enlightening to read ALEC’s other policies. I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.

Does New Zealand have its own version of ALEC? I suggest, yes, we do, and they call themselves the Business Roundtable. Over the years we know that they’ve brought their carefully selected education ‘experts’ here to promote their view of schooling. We also know that Milton Friedman, the patron “saint” of Roger Douglas, Ruth Richardson, Don Brash,  Roger Kerr (Business Roundtable), and the New Zealand Treasury,  promoted privatisation of the public school system. Is there an agenda? What do you think?

As Paulo Freire has pointed out in Pedagogy of the Oppressed,
“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” 

Which of these options applies to present government policy?

The battle line must be drawn now.

 Here’s US educator Will Richardson’s frustration about the situation there, which equally applies to New Zealand:
“If you’re a public school educator in the U.S. right now, how can you not be angry? How can you not be doing something, even if it is just a profanity laced Tweet? The profession is being trampled. Politicians and businessmen with no background in education are driving reform. And our students are stuck in a system that still thinks it’s the 19th Century. By any standard, including the tests, our kids are not being well served, especially those who live in poverty. As a community, we’re in a fight, whether we like it or not, yet we seem more inclined to figure out Google+ than to make our voices heard to the policy makers who seem to have no desire to figure out what’s best for our children and care more about their re-election campaigns.  I mean really…what’s it going to take?”


I’ll leave the final word to Phil Cullen:

Please help our school children to regain the freedom to learn.
Things will get worse.

Thanks to Bruce for allowing me to use this forum. Thanks also to Michael Fawcett (Twitter @teachernz or here on Google Plus) for flicking interesting websites my way.


Bruce Hammonds said...

Lets hope New Zealand principals read and take on board what you have written.

Thanks Allan.

Anonymous said...

This has been brewing for a while. Thanks Allan for summarising and collating many links. I have added these to my reader.

I have been meaning to contact you Allan and make time this term to come and see you at school.

Shem Banbury said...

Alan, according to your first statement any school that is complying with the MOE are not putting children first. I think that is wrong.

I am a supporter of NS and think that once they are developed a little more they will be a valuable tool for schools and parents to see where their students and kids are.

NS have bought clarity to my school and our learning and assessment programme. It means we don't muck about so much on things that dont matter and the students seem to enjoy the challenge of striving to attain different levels.

Surely if Primary teachers believed so passionately about 'evil national standards' they should been more vocal when their pay negotiation came around last year. you had the perfect platform to do something but didn't.

Allan Alach said...

Ozy Mandias - did you actually read any of the article apart from the first statement? How about rebutting some/all of the other issues raised? Or those in my previous postings? Or, what about all the points Bruce has raised? Kelvin Smythe? Phil Cullen? Lester Flockton? I'm looking forward to informed debate over all these.

Anonymous said...

A school to stay away from I reckon Allan!
NS provide the clarity of concrete. I would love to visit his school.

Anonymous said...

Oh Ozy! I despair when I read that NS brought clarity to your school and your learning and assessment programme! I truly groan, then my blood pressure spikes and I think I may have a stroke!
Then you state you no longer muck about on things that do not matter?
Like... what? Rich, authentic learning experiences! NS policy will go down in history as the biggest educational disaster ever! It is sadly only a matter of time! NS in their current form offer my school no clarity at all, they offer a conflict of what we know is right, and a set of meaningless flaky statement.
Here is one example of what NS is doing to childrens learning. In order to accelerate 5-6 year olds to the NS a school has weeded out all the fabulous readers that are NOT just high frequency, repititious stories. Gone are the Science readers with additional vocab and high interest!
If NS improved what your school was doing, I despair what you were in fact doing?
We all want a high standard, but we do not want or need high stakes assessment nonsense! Re think Ozy, you are barking up the wrong tree here!

Shem Banbury said...

Of course I read your article Allan. Just could really get the first paragraph.

Most of what you have written I agree with; the government will force the hand of education in New Zealand; NZ get much of their education ideas from overseas.

I have two questions for you
1. Are schools that are implementing the Nationals Standards not putting their students first?
2. Why didn't tachers/principals fight more against NS when they had their chance? If they really believed in what they were fighting for they would have been vocal when they had their chance.

Shem Banbury said...

Anonymous ( do you have a real name or just don't like putting a face to your argument?)

National Standards have not been implemented well and there are vast aray of problems. However, does that make them bad? I persoanlly dont think so. Our education system needs to have some sort of guidlines for parents, students and educators.

Your example is hardly compelling about why we should not have national standards. If a school was going to make rash decisions like that then you would have to question the leadership at that school.

Finally I may be barking up the wrong tree an if so I dont mind leaving. If you want a blog where everyone agrees then that is fine but sometimes some other views can be important.

Allan Alach said...

Ozy Mandias

The answer to your first question: I truly believe that any principals and teachers who voluntarily work to set up standards in their schools are not putting children first. Note I didn't repeat your wording "schools that are implementing..." as last time I looked, schools weren't conscious and decision making beings. Nitpicking, yes, but also important to use language that defines what is going on. Using 'schools' in this context belongs to the same word games (newspeak) as 'lifting the bar" (which BTW, comes from USA, not our govt).

Your second question is extremely valid and I can't answer it. Bruce, Kelvin, Lester, and many others flagged the dangers from the outset. The National Party policy in 2008 was very clear and the implementation of this has been transparent. So, as you ask, why didn't the fight start much earlier?

Final comment: any teachers who do not know how their students are doing in literacy and mathematics (without having to add NS to their evaluation toolkit) need to have a close look in the mirror and examine their lack of competence. Your first comment implies strongly that without NS, teachers in your school would have no idea on how their pupils are doing, and that is a big concern. Reflect on that.

Thanks for the dialogue.



Shem Banbury said...

Thanks Allan
I totally agree with your last comment. Teachers that dont know where their students are at shouldn't be in the game. And that for me is the beauty of National Standards. It is formalizing and making teachers report to parents on things that teacher already know. Surely that is a good thing.
My basis for advocating National Standards as being a good thing is the information that it gives parents. I believe parents want to know 2 things about their children while they are at school.

1. How they are doing socially/behaviourally?
2. How they are doing academically?
From my experience of teaching in a variety of schools (deciles/country/positions/year levels) over the last 9 years is that on the whole New Zealand schools have not explained the second of these questions well to parents.
Prior to NS we have maybe shown a couple of test results, given them a work sample, given some steps moving forward if the parents were lucky and the school was onto it. For me National Standards forces teachers to EXPLAIN, SHOW and STATE exactly where a particular child sits academically at this point in time. I believe it should help parents if they know that their child is below, at or above the standard expected for their age.

Now I should explain myself a little more and say I don’t believe National Standards are going to be helpful for some sectors of our society and some schools. I currently work in a Yr 7-13 high decile, urban, fee paying school and I think the system is good for our students. It motivates the majority of lower ones and those in the middle generally want to push and develop themselves. Infact for our students I find the Standards don’t push the really bright kids enough and this could be an area that they are improved. However, I have taught in school situations where I don’t believe NS would be beneficial.

I realise that I am in the minority amongst primary school teachers but I feel that the NS give parents the exact knowledge that they need for their kids. Personally I would be adverse to a national test at Year 8 level either, but that is for another day.

You think I am off the mark with NS standards. Don’t get me started on the numeracy project. ARRGGH!!!

KevinT said...


"I feel that the NS give parents the exact knowledge that they need for their kids"

I find this doesn't reconcile very well with the drastic variation in assessment between schools. We have had students transfer in with a prior assessment of 'at' or 'above' who have been assessed as 'requires urgent intervention' by our teachers. I can only assume that some schools are passing everybody in order to get a higher position on the league table.
Are you experiencing this kind of variation? Or is it only a problem for lower decile schools?
We are decile 1.
I would rephrase your statement to say "NS give parents false knowledge".